A few days back, I summed up the key cleantech highlights of the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, which did not include every cleantech car in the show and understandably left out a few brands and cars that were either not as prominently featured or just weren’t as noteworthy at this show. This article will fill in those gaps, covering the remaining EVs and PHEVs at the show for better or worse.
Chevrolet was at the show and brought the relatively new 2016 Volt. We have covered the new 2016 model extensively since its announcement and even scored an early test drive, so there wasn’t a whole lot more to mention coming from the show. GM had just won the controversial Green Car of the Year award, though considering the other contenders for the award, that wasn’t saying much… so neither did we. What bummed me out about Chevy at the show was that the car is a major accomplishment — it improves on its award-winning and highly loved predecessor in every meaningful metric and is the most well rounded PHEV available in the world — yet Chevy still had it tucked in the far back corner of the massive display space, behind an army of oversized Chevy trucks and SUVs.
There was also no mention of an updated 2017 Volt — which customers can order starting in December 2015 (what!?!), though maybe GM’s embarrassed to have a single model year (2016) that is missing the handful of minor tweaks that are supposed to be coming with the 2017 update, such as Android Auto and possibly even new autopilot features. That leaves the 2016 MY Volt as a compliance car one-off, while GM plans to take the new 2017 Volt to all 50 states. That’s about the only reason I can imagine it wouldn’t have the Volt front and center, next to a Bolt concept (more on that in a bit).
The Spark EV was even worse, having been hidden behind a massive display screen. That does make a little more sense to do with the Spark, as it’s an obvious California Air Resource Board (CARB) Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) compliance car. However, this spritely little rocket is lots of fun to drive and really zips off of the line. I was very close to snagging one of these back in August when we bought our Leaf, but they were out of stock… everywhere within 300 miles of me, making it even more obvious that it was just a compliance car being produced in the minimum volumes to meet quotas.
The highly anticipated Chevrolet Bolt was nowhere to be found at the show. This was a surprise to me, as GM had it set up just a few miles down the road at the Santa Monica Alt Car Expo in September, and even announced at the Los Angeles Auto Show that it was going to be revealing the official 2017 production version of the Bolt at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in just a few weeks time. This seems like a move to change the image of Chevy from a car company to a tech company… a la Tesla. I like it, and with the new 2016 Volt delivering major improvements over the previous generation, I am hopeful that the Bolt will similarly improve and bring what may be the first affordable, long-range EV to the masses.
Cadillac had a huge press conference on the second media day of the event, where it announced yet another midsize gas-guzzling SUV. While the world media buzzed around for eager photos of the new reveal, I snuck over to the Cadillac CT6 Plug-In demo. Cadillac had a full cutaway of this full-size luxury sedan competitor, which features the same 18.4 kWh-size battery pack as the Chevy Volt. This massive car was announced back in August at the Shanghai Auto Show. With the addition of the PHEV system, it is “expected to achieve fuel economy more than double that of conventional engine.” This could mean that it’s double the efficiency of its gas-only counterpart or something less impactful, but it sounds promising… especially with the hefty size of the onboard battery pack. The Cadillac website claims the CT6 PHEV will achieve 40 miles of all-electric range, which is promising.
The Cadillac ELR is coming back from the dead — or, rather, its brief production hiatus (as weak sales of the 2014 Model Year ELR resulted in Chevy not even producing a 2015 version). The 2016 version has received a price cut down to a still pricey $65,000 and is eligible for the $7,500 federal plug-in rebate. This is so close to the price of a Tesla that I would be seriously challenged not to get a Tesla… okay, that’s not true, I would just get a Tesla. 🙂
Kia brought the Soul EV, which I also had a chance to test drive (a few times). Notably, the Kia Soul EV has a 27-kWh battery pack, which up until the announcement of the 2016 Nissan Leaf packed the most range of any other non-Tesla (aka affordable) EV — 90 miles per charge. I was impressed at the intuitive interface of the interior and the high-quality feel of the drive. Kia has never been at the top of my list, but the test drive definitely improved my perception of Kia vehicles.
Mitsubishi was in the house with the cute little iMiEV. This cute little guy first went into production in 2009 for fleet customers and a year later for normal customers and it’s still on the market. However, it’s still sporting 2009 specs with 62 miles of range, but also comes with an ultra-low price tag at under $24,000 before tax credits and rebates.
VW brought the eGolf and was also out front of the convention center offering test drives, which I took advantage of. I was treated to the same enjoyably responsive throttle, polished interior, and overall tasteful EV experience as the past few times I have driven it. I almost ended up in a 3-year lease of an eGolf right before VW lowered the price to the current price of just under $30,000, which feels like a steal for such a well built car. VW, unfortunately, did not have any news to offer on the car, though I did poke and prod for updates to range, new EVs or even PHEVs — but was only steered towards one of the VW concepts on display…
…which was a pretty slick concept car! VW had a raced-out Golf GTE Sport Plug-in Hybrid Concept at the show that was all kinds of cool packed into a compact package. With the full VW family still raw from the ongoing reaming it is receiving as a result of blatantly cheating emissions testing software, the VW booth was expectedly empty for most of the show. This concept embodies VW’s idea of what a VW performance PHEV might look like. It reminds me of the BMW i8 in that it doesn’t strive for the ultimate efficiency nor does it forego all else for looks. It’s the best of both worlds. Sporty and efficient. Refined and sexy. While the i8 definitely takes the cake in terms of unique looks, the new VW concept is not far behind with its doors that open out and then up… not falcon wing, not gullwing… not normal… just awesome.
I hope that this truly is what VW aspires to be in the future and not just a showy car that’s attempting to distract the public from the nasty stuff it pulled with its diesel emissions. Truly rounding the corner and pursuing an all-out electrification strategy might be enough to win back some trust and carve out a path forward for the struggling brand. Check out a few of my favorite shots of this fancy new concept:
Volvo brought the oversized XC90 Plug-in Hybrid concept with a display featuring the rolling chassis of the big boy. This thing is just as large in person as it appears in pics, and is the result of a massive reorganization of the Volvo brand by its new Chinese owners. The new owners are doing everything in their power to turn around the downward trend of US sales and these early remodels hint at what’s to come for Volvo. I’m personally hoping that means we should expect to see more of the EV in PHEV and less of the oversized SUV, but time will tell. For now, Volvo has the rolling chassis out as well as the fully baked production version, which seems to have more demand than expected so far.
Porsche created a showroom separate from the rest of the show in what felt like an exclusive club. After getting on the list and waiting in line, I was finally let in! Okay, there wasn’t a line, but it felt like there should have been. Walking in, I was greeted by well informed guides and a fleet of beautiful vehicles on either side of the main aisle. Tucked in with the rest of the fleet were two e-hybrids (as Porsche likes to call PHEVs) — the Panamera e-hybrid and the Cayenne e-hybrid. These are the upscale counterparts to the awkward diesel vehicles in the room, which are also a part of the VW #dieselgate mess. Porsche does not put out a ton of diesels, but it does have a few models that were impacted and it is good to see that Porsche also has a green team pushing for higher fuel economy. Okay, it’s probably just for California but I’ll take it just the same.
Mercedes brought several PHEVs to the show, including the GLE 550e PHEV, the PHEV version of its flagship S550 — the S550e, a C350e PHEV, and of course, the all-electric B-Class Electric Drive, which my wife drives as her daily driver. Mercedes released the first production hybrid model for the brand in 2009 with the first plug-in hybrid gliding quietly out the doors in 2015 with the arrival of the S550e. Since then, the C350e and GLE550e were announced to be released in the fall and should be arriving in dealerships any day now. These cars feature electric-only range in the high teens on the overly generous European rating system, with only the S550e having an official rating yet, pulling in a combined 58 MPGe, which assumes the owner plugs the car in at night.
Hot Wheels was definitely in the house. I wouldn’t normally mention such an obviously gas-centric company, but there were two notable exceptions this year. First, Hot Wheels had more EVs on hand than any other manufacturer at the show, sporting a multitude of rare Tesla Roadsters, several Tesla Model Ss in red, and even the new-to-North America Chevy Super Volt in blue. Second, Hot Wheels had the only indoor test drive circuit, which obviously required that no gasoline be consumed. I would bet that more miles were put on cars in this track than in the rest of the test drives combined. In all honesty, Hot Wheels did bring a fun exhibit for the kids and I was excited to see that it also had several electric cars on hand that not only allow me to actually own a Tesla or two today but also to get my kids excited about them, which may be more important in the long run.
So that’s it — the exhaustive listing of ALL of the cleantech cars at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show. This does not include all of the hybrids or relatively high-efficiency gas-only cars (I’m lookin’ at you, Elio), though we may dig into them more in a separate article. Let us know if there is one you are specifically interested in down in the comments.